By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – Two dozen people testified Thursday in support of a bill expanding Medicaid in Nebraska – as is optional under Obamacare – that is being promoted by a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Sen. Kathy Campbell, R-Lincoln, sponsored the bill despite vocal opposition to the proposal by Republican Gov. Dave Heineman. States can opt in or out of the provision expanding Medicaid to those earning up to $26,344 for a family of three.
“No matter what you think of the (Affordable Care Act), it is the law of the land,” Campbell said.
The federal government would cover all the costs from 2014 to 2016, after which its contribution would drop to 90 percent. Heineman opposes the move because he doubts the federal government will follow through on its funding promises, and he says the move would cost Nebraska hundreds of millions of dollars.
Campbell said if Nebraska doesn’t participate in the program, it would forgo $2.3 billion, and Nebraskans’ tax dollars would be spent on patients in other states.
“It is a way to stop writing a blank check for the ever increasing costs we all pay,” Campbell said.
A study by the University of Nebraska Medical Center estimates 55,000 Nebraskans would be newly eligible for Medicaid if the bill passed, resulting in an average of $750 in savings on private policy premiums for individuals and $2,100 for families through 2020.
However, Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor pointed out that insurers won’t necesarily reduce premiums.
Jennifer Carter, director of public policy at the left-leaning nonprofit Nebraska Appleseed, said expanding Medicaid would grow the economy and allow people with disabilities to earn a little more without losing their coverage.
“It simply is the right thing to do,” she said.
The Nebraska Medical Association estimated about 500 Nebraskans wouldn’t die needlessly because they couldn’t get health care coverage.
However, Mike Grone of the Western Nebraska Taxpayers of North Platte, said the nation is broke, and this program would extend benefits to people who don’t have the motivation to take care of themselves – “deadbeats, I call them,” he said. He said the hearing proved “the people who show up are the ones who benefit from a government program.”
But Sharon Lind, CEO of Ogallala Community Hospital, said Nebraska should not “leave billions of dollars on the table,” and that expanding Medicaid would reduce the amount of bad debt, uncompensated care and charity care hospitals extend annually.
The bill was supported by the Nebraska Association of County Officials, the Nebraska State Education Association, the Center for People in Need, hospital representatives, pediatricians, a medical student, a nurse practitioners’ association, the Center for Rural Affairs, the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations and the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
Gloor worried that all those newly insured would make it more difficult for Medicaid patients to get in to see a doctor.
“This is a setup for major misery,” he said.
Jessica Meeske, a pediatric dentist from Hastings, acknowledged her practice could become a dumping ground for patients if other providers don’t take the new patients.
“But we’re going to find a way to make this work,” she said. “We’re here to serve the vulnerable population.”
Kathy Hoell, who uses a wheelchair, said about 14,000 disabled Nebraskans would qualify for Medicaid if the bill passed.
Monica Scheehanartz, a hairstylist and single mom who has an illness that prevents her from being able to get health insurance, said if the bill passed, she would qualify for Medicaid.
“You’re one of those people that’s just one accident away,” Omaha Sen. Bob Krist said.
State Medicaid Director Vivianne Chaumont testified against the bill, saying mandatory provisions in Obamacare are already estimated to add about 48,000 Nebraskans to the Medicaid rolls through 2020, at a cost of $770 million. If the bill passed, a total of 95,000 more Nebraskans would use the program, at a cost of $2.7 billion (both state and federal).
If one in five Nebraskans end up covered by Medicaid, access to care could be squeezed, she said, with health care providers either limiting or refusing to see Medicaid patients, creating pressure to increase rates. She also made it clear she works for the governor, so his priorities are her priorities.
However, Krist said her numbers didn’t add up.
“What we’re after really is the truth, and I don’t think the truth is on the left or right side,” he said.
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